Novelist Amanda Eyre Ward Reflects on Her Ouray Connections
by Samantha Wright
Aug 16, 2012 | 2082 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Amanda Eyre Ward (Photo by Cory Ryan)
Amanda Eyre Ward (Photo by Cory Ryan)
AUTHOR Amanda Eyre Ward (right) with her family (minus baby Nora who was napping) at her new summer home in Ouray. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
AUTHOR Amanda Eyre Ward (right) with her family (minus baby Nora who was napping) at her new summer home in Ouray. (Photo by Samantha Wright)

OURAY – When Amanda Eyre Ward spent a winter in Ouray in the late 1990s penning her first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven, it would have been hard for her to imagine her future self, sitting comfortably at 40 on the porch of a house she and husband Tip Meckel have recently become part-owners of, with two towheaded boys jousting with toilet plungers in the grassy yard, a baby girl napping inside, and a string of four hugely successful novels and plus a collection of short stories to her name.

Well, maybe she could imagine it. That’s how she gets inside the skin of her vividly rendered characters, after all – by imagining “What if I...”

But, this particular “What if I...” would have been a stretch.

Ward laughs as she recalls that winter now, which she spent huddled in a cold house on Oak Street with a pellet stove that didn’t work, afraid to turn up the heat because she was broke, typing away in her hat and fingerless gloves all day, then heading out for frosty afternoon walks with her dog to clear her head and figure out what should come next in her novel about a woman on death row.

Often, on those walks, she’d stop by Duckett’s Market where the butcher saved bones for her dog.

“How’s that book of yours?” the butcher would ask her.

Or, she’d meet up with her friend Jenny Hart, a teacher at the Ouray School, at the Silver Eagle Saloon and talk over her characters’ evolution for hours at a time.

“I finished my first book because everyone here believed I could do it,” she says now. “I decided, ‘I’m either going to do this or not.’ That was the winter that made the difference.”

For Ward, novel-writing continues to be hard work. Her latest, Close Your Eyes, went through over a hundred agonizing drafts before it made its way to press ... a full year after it was due.

The book is a character-driven literary whodunit that won Elle magazine's Fiction Book of the Year in 2011. It centers around a woman, Lauren, whose father was wrongly accused and convicted of murdering her mother when she was just a child. It was inspired by a real life murder which happened when Ward was a teenager, near her hometown of Rye, N.Y., when a husband and wife from India were brutally stabbed to death in their own bed on New Year’s Eve.

In 1993, Ward and her friends found out that the murderer was one of them, a teenage boy, a local, the son of a bank president. The perpetrator claimed that he had carried out the crime in an alcoholic black-out, after stumbling into a home that he thought was his own and finding two “strangers” in his parents’ bed.

“I think, in writing the book, I wanted not only to understand what happened to a boy who was one of us, what made him into a murderer, but also to create a world where this wrong was righted, and a broken town was sewn back together,” Ward mused. “For some reason I’ve always thought about what people are capable of. I realize now in writing this book that that event influenced a lot of my writing.”

Close Your Eyes just came out in paperback, and was fêted at a paperback launch party at the Between the Covers Bookstore in Telluride earlier this week. Ward will also be doing a reading and book signing event at Ouray’s Buckskin Bookstore in the Beaumont Hotel next Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.

There is no doubt she has officially “made it” as a novelist. Her work has been optioned for television and film (Sandra Bullock and Fox Searchlight) and published in fifteen countries.

Oddly though, Ward said, success has made the process of writing novels even harder. “When I finished Close Your Eyes, my French editor told me, ‘This does not read like an Amanda Eyre Ward book,’” she laughed. “There is now this commercial expectation. But then when you get back into the internal logic of a book, there is a surrendering to that. That’s what the process is about, and that has nothing to do with critics, or reviews, or money.”

Ward and her family now make their full-time home in Austin, Tex. but have frequently visited Ouray over the years, where Tip’s large extended family has always summered. Now, together with Tip’s brothers and their families, they’ve bought a “share” in their own summer home in Ouray.

Ward says that her family doesn’t influence the storyline of her books, which all seem to fall into the realm of ‘dark secrets’ literary fiction. But, her kids and husband do seep in around the edges, at least thematically.

“I keep coming back to this theme of savoring the ordinary, which is something that they teach me,” she said. “I didn’t come from a family like this. I didn’t come from a happy family. So every day, I just can’t believe that I’m sitting here in this situation. That comes through a lot in my writing, just how lucky it is to have a day where nothing awful happens. Ordinary joy.”

Ward has become an inspiration to other writers who are parents. Often, at readings or in Facebook chats, women will ask her how she does it – the whole novelist/mother thing.

She’s not quite sure herself, other than honoring the impulse and religiously carving out the time. And working at it really, really hard.

“A friend of mine once said, ‘It’s like you’re under water when you’re writing and then you have to show up at school to pick up your kids, and sometimes you still have seaweed in your hair,’” she laughed. “I love that. It’s true. There are days that I’m just not out of the fictional world. And yet there I am, standing at school, plucking out the bits of seaweed.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet